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  • Day79

    Ardeche

    June 18, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 28 °C

    We decide to blast the whole way to the Ardeche region rather than making another overnight stop, so after a long drive with just a stop off for a food shop (fast becoming the best entertainment for the children as they blast round and round the aisles, and the most stressful part of our week!) we pull into the car park of a lovely site on the river - obviously the children head straight to the park, then we get a quick dip in the pools. After kids bedtime, we both get chance to see the sunset over the river - a beautiful treat!

    As Nic and I had both seen the beautiful river at our campsite, we head straight off in the morning to Pont D’Arc and find a parking spot (where we actually could’ve camped for free...darn!).

    We head straight down towards the river rather than taking the high path over the road, and wade through the small but strong rapids to reach the arc. We find frogs, lizards and more beautiful moths and butterflies, and watch as the kayakers paddle by. The Arc is amazing to see...to think how it has been eroded over the years to make the archway, but is still strong enough to hold up.

    Next up, some art. It’s getting hot but we’re making good time to reach the amazing caves at Chauvet. These are actually a replica of those at Pont D’Arc, which were only discovered in 1994 and are closed to the public to preserve what lies within.

    We get our tickets and make our way to the ‘cavern’ - they are very clear that is a replica, they are not trying to pull the wool over your eyes with this.

    Inside we get an audio tour in a very quiet cave system (cue begging the children not to make loud noises and finally giving in and illegally feeding them crisps to keep them quiet as the tour comes towards the end of its hour!), and at each point of the tour we are shown what is so spectacular. The oldest paintings by man on earth. When these caves were chanced upon by 3 explorers in 1994, they came across a huge cave full of magnificent artwork that changed the understanding of how modern man lived 36000 years ago. The cave drawings are so fine and detailed, so well drawn, with such skill and so few tools that this discovery was collosal in terms of how ‘modern art’ was thought of.

    The drawings are so well preserved, along with bear bones and other prehistoric animals and tools used to create the artwork, and the discovery of this site was so significant that the cave quickly became a protected UNESCO world heritage site and it was decided that other than scientists, no one would ever visit them. The replica took almost 3 years, 35 companies and many people to create, it is half the size of the actual cave system, a condensed version of what actually exists.

    Each piece of artwork was created from photos and scans of the originals in a studio and then fixed to the ‘cavern’ as the build was complete, and it opened its doors in 2015.

    We wondered through trying to make sure our audio was in time with what we were seeing while keeping Coen from climbing/jumping/shouting at the cave, and it was fascinating to hear and see a tiny insight into the lives of the people that roamed our earth so many years before us. The drawings of woolly mammoths, reindeers, horses and lions were so lifelike, but these were drawn 36000 years ago, it’s hard to imagine these animals back then. The caves were visited again 6000 years after the drawings were made and footprints of prehistoric children holding torches still remained when the caves were discovered. No one found the caves again until 30000 years later, this made us wander how much more on earth we (as humans in our modern day) have not yet found.

    We also visit the little museum with the huge life size animals that feature on the artwork and lots of interactive info which is great, Amelia enjoys pressing ALL the buttons and asking why they aren’t speaking English, but by the time this is done we are starving and it’s pretty baking outside, so we hotfoot back to the van, get some snacks and head up the road to our next stop.

    We are literally in the middle of nowhere here in beautiful, hilly green countryside deep in the heart of France, and would not have found this stop except it is a sister site to where we stayed in Verdon, and our main and only reason to visit it is that is has a huge waterpark within it (actually France’s only residential aquapark) and, as it was so close to the Ardeche stopover, we couldn’t resist.

    After a brief panic thinking we’re going to have to pay 100e to get into the waterpark (no, it’s all included in the 20e camping price) we get set up and in no time we find the waterpark.

    This is an outdoor version of one we went to in Austria with many identical slides and pools, so the children enjoy the huge pirate ship, the normal size flumes and jets and Nic and I try out the ‘big’ ones, to see which ones Amelia (and Coen) can handle.

    The only downside (well literally the upside) is that our pitch is at the top of a huge hill and the waterpark is at the bottom so after expelling a lot of energy in the pool, it is a real struggle to get Amelia up the hill back to our van in the 6pm 30 degree heat.

    We take Coen and Amelia on two of the big slides as you ride them on rubber rings and they are not too crazy, they both love them and want to go again, again, again...’luckily’ the lifeguards at this pool are very laissez-faire as neither of them reaches the 1m20 height restriction!
    We get a little thunderstorm over lunch, and when we head back to the pool, we wonder if it will be open with the lightning going on, but no problem - until the storm is literally above our head and they close by which time we’ve done all the slides and pools quite a few times!

    We stop over for two nights so that we get a full day at the waterpark and can leave refreshed ready for the trip south to be beach (and hopefully some beautiful pink wildlife!), and we’re definitely fitter than when we arrived after a few times walking up and down the hillside to the pool!
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